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The End of the MBFGC Era - Schortsanitas Won't Be a Clipper Any Time Soon

With the news that Sofoklis Schortsanitis has apparently signed with Greek powerhouse Panathanaikos, the seven year long MBFGC experiment has likely come to an end. Technically, the Clippers still retain Sofo's NBA rights. But realistically, with an expensive three year deal in Europe (presumably including an expensive buy out), he's not ever going to be playing in the NBA. There's just not much market for 28 year old NBA rookies from Europe. Luis Scola (27) and Arvydas Sabonis (31) are the only precedents I can think of that come close.

Thanks to Citizen Ming for bringing the latest to our attention, and for helping to translate some of what is being said in the Greek media.  A word of caution: take all of these reports with a grain of salt.  The European media (and the Greek media in particular) tend to be even more sensationalistic than we here in the US.  If you'll recall from my conversation with Sofo earlier this month in Playa Vista, I was impressed with his command of English, specifically in his use of the phrase "selective hearing."  Guess who he was talking about when he said that?  The Greek media.

I should also point out that I have found nothing online that says that Sofo has actually signed.  I am assuming that Citizen Ming is in Greece and seeing what is being reported in print and on TV there.  The broad strokes of the story are consistent with things I have seen and heard.  BallInEurope probably has the best synopsis of the information for the English speaking NBA fan (they link to and also translate portions of this report).  But so far Ming is the only one to report on specifics of a deal with Panathanaikos.  So again, let me state, grain of salt.

[Note by Steve Perrin, 07/22/10 8:20 AM PDT ]  See the comments section.  Another Greek Citizen of ClipsNation, teregosa, says that according to the Greek media, Sofo has indeed not yet signed with Panathanaikos, and is reporting a signficantly lower contract offer, 3/$5.3M.  Citizen Ming, if you're out there, we need some more sources.  As of now, Sofo's comments about Summer League play and the $10.3M contract are stricly a FanPost on ClipsNation, which is not a valid source.  So big grain of salt everyone, though the gist of this post remains the same.  It is worth noting that perhaps the ugliest rumor, the story about the Clippers missing a meeting, has been reported elsewhere.

We may never know everything, but based on the basic information that Citizen Ming presented, there's not much of a story here.  If the Clippers best offer was 3/$6M, and the Greens were offering 3/$10.5M as Ming suggests, well, that's not much of a decision for Sofo.  You also need to bear in mind that, generally speaking, US contracts are reported in gross figures, while European contracts are reported in net figures.  In other words, that $10.5M is tax-free, and is probably well over twice as much money as the Clippers were offering.

And you know what?  We sure as hell didn't see anything in Summer League that would have warranted 3/$10.5M (or really 3/$15M, which is more like what he's getting in Greece when you consider the tax implications).  The offer the Clippers made is pretty much in line with what he should have been offered.  I always presumed that he'd have to take a pay cut to play in the NBA - it's true of many major Euro players, especially the ones lucky enough to be on the radar of the super rich clubs like Olympiakos and Panathanaikos and CSKA (other Euro teams, not so much these days).  In the end, the pay cut was just too much.

Let's look at some of the other things we've heard about this situation:

  • Sofo didn't like his Summer League experience.  This is not news.  His Summer League experience stunk - for him and for me, quite frankly.  We've been through all of this before.  It's a guard's league, they didn't get him the ball, the spacing was terrible, players have ten fouls to use, etc, etc, etc.  Having said all that, Sofo did NOT acquit himself well in Summer League, even taking all of those things into consideration.  Plenty of bigs looked good in Vegas - JaVale McGee, DeMarcus Cousins, even Derrick Caracter.  He didn't handle double teams well, and he didn't convert free throws when he went to the line.  It was a terrible environment for him, but even considering it's shortcomings, he should have done better.  (More on his SL performance below.)

  • The Clippers told him he would have to wait until other free agents were signed.  This is almost certainly a misrepresentation of an earlier situation.  When the Clippers were hoping to sign LeBron James or a similarly big fish, they absolutely told Sofo's agent that he'd have to wait and see what happened.  But from July 8, when LeBron said 'South Beach' and all the other big guys were gone and the Clippers started signing third tier guys like Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye, there was no more reason to wait.  The Clippers were either going to use some portion of their cap space on Sofo, or they weren't.  As we can plainly see now, they're not going to end up using it all.  It also would appear that Craig Smith was the fallback big.  We don't even know if the 3/$6M offer was real... but if it was, it contradicts the story that they were still waiting on the Clippers.  Of course Panathanaikos wanted an answer; all teams want to get things done and move forward.  But I don't see any thing particularly interesting in the waiting games being discussed here.  The Clippers made an offer, Panathanaikos made a better offer, that's the story.

  • The Clippers were unprofessional throughout the process.  Fish, meet barrel.  Maybe it's true that the Clippers missed a scheduled meeting with Sofo and his agent, maybe it's not.  This card is so easy to play, of course his agent is going to play it.  Sofo goes off to America to make it in the big leagues, and comes limping back to Greece with his tail between his legs.  Why did he only average 2 points in summer league?  Because they wouldn't throw him the ball.  Why did the Clippers only offer him 3/$6M?  Because they're cheap and incompetent.  Of course, just because it's the obvious lie to tell, doesn't mean it's not true.  But it's all very simple, and when I ask Neil Olshey and Andy Roeser about it, of course they're going to say it's not true.  I doubt they stood him up - I mean, why would they? - but we'll probably never really know the truth. 

I think you all know that I'm as disappointed as anyone that this didn't work out.  I've followed him closely since the 2006 Worlds.  Heck, the third post I ever wrote on ClipsNation was about MBFGC, and I even wrote about him on my little known earlier blog as well.  Other than Chris Kaman, he's the only member of the Clippers that's been there the whole time I've had my blog.  So I'm a little attached to the big fella.  I think the guy is a unique talent, but as I said before, he did very little in Las Vegas to earn a big pay day.  Now, I'd be a more than a little disappointed if the Clippers didn't have a hell of a lot more information about him from OTHER scouting than they got in Las Vegas.  After all, they've had his rights for seven years, and he's probably played 400 games in that time.

At that point, you have to ask yourself what was different about NBA Summer League that made him less effective?  Was it the lack of structure, the Clippers terrible point guard play (and let's face facts, it was terrible) and the constant fouling?  Or was it the athleticism of the competition and the length of the defenders?  If it's the former, you assume that he'll do better in the NBA regular season than he showed in Vegas.  If it's the latter, you assume that he'll be totally useless in the NBA.

The irony in his Vegas performance is that he was statistically the complete opposite of who he has been in Europe and who I thought he would be.  In Europe, he's a points per minute machine, shooting in the high 60s percentage wise.  In Vegas, he was 2 for 6 in four games.  On the other hand, he's never been a particularly good rebounder on a per minute basis in his European and international career, and one assumes from his girth that he'd be relatively earth bound.  In contrast to that in Vegas, he grabbed 15 rebounds in only 53 minutes of court time, a very solid 10 per 36 minutes.  He also had not one, not two, not three, but four highlight reel blocks of attempted dunks.  It was a little bizarre, frankly.  It's not a play you see very often, and he went up to reject guys above the rim four times in his last three games in Las Vegas.  I had no idea he had that in him.

It's also worth noting that - aside from his very first game which was a train wreck but was after all his very first NBA game so maybe he needed an adjustment time - he actually displayed his impressive post up game in Las Vegas.  In games 2, 3 and 4, he went 2 for 3 and also drew 6 shooting fouls.  In other words, on those nine post touches, he scored or was fouled on eight of them.  Now, he also turned the ball over six times in those three games, in only 40 minutes, and he shot a miserable 6 for 13 from the line (drawing fouls is less useful if you don't make your free throws), so there were still plenty of issues.  But I remain convinced that he would destroy single coverage, even in the Assoc.

There's definitely a snobbery about NBA people.  I spoke to scouts and GMs and trainers in Vegas who said he couldn't play, that European bigs play 'below the rim', that it's just a different game, that he was just too fat.  But in the end, none of it adds up.  How can Vassilis Spanalous not warrant more than 272 minutes TOTAL for Houston in his only season in the NBA, and Schortsanitis not be an NBA player according to some, yet Greece can beat an NBA All Star team in 2006?  This guy can play, and while he may not fit the 'long and bouncy' profile that Chad Ford prefers, I think that NBA talent evaluators may have gotten locked in on a certain type of player to the exclusion of all others - some of whom can flat out play basketball.

In the end, it's really just a case of him being more valuable in Athens than he is in LA.  I'm disappointed, but I'll enjoy watching him next month in Istanbul at the World's, and I'll follow his career at Panathanaikos.  (By the way, moving from Olympiakos to Panathanaikos is roughly the equivalent of going from UCLA to USC, times a billion.  These teams HATE each other, and Sofo had better have police protection the first time the Greens play the Reds, because it's going to be violent.)  If ClipperZoe gets her way, maybe I'll see him in London at the 2012 Olympics, because she's pretty adamant that we're going to that.